Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done.
I just love Amelia Earhart. She isn’t an unusual choice for a feature or person of admiration, but she certainly was an unusual woman of her time. Spotlighting her is not only essential given how great she was for American culture and women, it is timely because a modern Earhart aviatrix has recently finished the flight the original was tragically unable to complete.
Amelia Earhart is possibly best known for her mysterious disappearance in 1937. While that mystery is intriguing and worth exploring, I prefer to focus on her life and accomplishments.
I read a short biography of Earhart at a time in my life when more than ever before I needed to absorb the stories of revolutionary women. Contrary to my then therapist’s insistence that learning about who I called “strong or independent women” would be detrimental because it would make me feel less adequate, reading about Amelia Earhart helped me feel empowered and that my life is mine to make, and I’m not at the mercy of other people or ideas. (Take that psychotherapy! Blammo!!!)
I’m not sure why, but one detail from that biography that sticks out more than others is that of Earhart’s sleeping in her new flight jacket in order to break it in faster. I guess that just seems like the type of thing we all might do when we find our passions? Break into them as much as possible? I don’t know why that detail stands out, it just does.
As a child, Earhart was the definition of a tomboy in a time when it was less acceptable to be one. She climbed trees, hunted rats, and saved newspaper clippings of successful women in male-dominated fields.
The first time she flew in an airplane was in 1920 when she was 23 years old. She took a ride at an air show in Long Beach, California and that ride changed the direction of her life.
Working at odd jobs, she saved enough money to take flight lessons from Anita Snook. In 1921 she bought her first airplane, a bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane, which she called “The Canary.”
Earhart went on to break records and was the 16th woman to be given a pilot’s license by The Federation Aeronautique (wouldn’t it be interesting to know more about those other 15 ladies…).
In 1928 Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic… as a passenger. I can’t exactly stick myself inside a historical situation (where’s the TARDIS when you need it?) but if I had to hypothesize, this seems like it was possibly a publicity stunt. A WOMAN in an AIRPLANE!! Oh, my! Newsworthy!!!! Earhart was invited to cross the Atlantic as a passenger by Captain Hilton H. Railey. She wasn’t allowed to fly because it was considered too dangerous for a woman. (Why have her then? That’s why I suspect publicity stunt. Why invite a pilot if you don’t think she’s capable of managing the flight?) Earhart mused that she felt she, “was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” But, never fear! That passenger flight wasn’t the last anyone heard “Earhart” and “Atlantic” together!
On the fifth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s flight, Earhart took off for the same feat. In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland and headed for Paris. However, due to mechanical difficulties she didn’t make it to Paris but instead landed in a field in Londonderry, Ireland.
Earhart continued to take on difficult and inspiring flights. She became the first person to fly across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans when she completed her Honolulu to Oakland flight. She also flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to New York.
In addition to her flying prowess, she also designed a line of clothes called Amelia Earhart Fashion. Her fashion line was designed with aviation in mind, as well as a desire to design something for all women. Earhart’s line was the first to offer separates for suits. So instead of buying a suit with every piece the same size, a woman could buy a jacket in one size and a skirt in another.
She also designed her line with finances in mind. This was during the Great Depression, so her clothing could not be overpriced. She sold her clothing at prices lower than those of other fashion lines, and also sold patterns so women could make their own Amelia Earhart Fashions.
While the line didn’t last, the designs were notable because they were functional. Earhart said of her designs, “I tried to put the freedom that is in flying into the clothes.” Some notable aspects of her designs included practical fabrics, longer shirt tails that would stay tucked in with movement, solid lines instead of ruffles, buttons shaped like propellers, flowing designs, and the use of parachute silk.
Earhart’s final flight began June 1, 1937 from Miami in a Lockheed Electra. Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly around the globe. Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan flew down Central and South America, and east for Africa. They continued up through the Middle East and South Asia, to Australia, and finally to Lae, Papua New Guinea.
It was from Lae Earhart and Noonan took off for Howland Island and were never seen again.
The leg to Howland Island was one of the last in Earhart’s round the world flight. Earhart had been communicating with the Coast Guard ship Itasca, her planned radio contact, providing updates on her location. On July 2, 1937 at 7:42 a.m. the Coast Guard ship Itasca received a radio transmission from Earhart saying, “We must be on you but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” Earhart’s last inflight communication came through at 8:43 a.m. indicating she was flying a north, south line.
While many theories have been presented, there have been no conclusive findings as to what ultimately happened to Earhart and Noonan. Recent research suggests radio transmissions from days following the disappearance were credibly from Earhart, though at the time they were considered bunk so went ignored.
Despite Earhart’s tragic end, her real legacy is inspiring generations of women to aspire to achieve their dreams–be they aviation dreams or not. Earhart broke boundaries for women in her time, and inspired a nation deep in the throes of the Great Depression.
And let’s get fashionably real: We wear bomber jackets because of her, right?